A Year-Round Guide to Franklin and Nantahala

Glory be to peanuts. Not just any peanuts. Church peanuts. Pulled from the sandy soil of North Carolina fields, blistered in the fires of oil, baptized in that heavenly shower

Rosemary and Goat Cheese Strata

Glory be to peanuts. Not just any peanuts. Church peanuts. Pulled from the sandy soil of North Carolina fields, blistered in the fires of oil, baptized in that heavenly shower

Praise be to Church Peanuts!

Salted fried peanuts prepared by the Mount Olive FUMC Peanut Crew

Glory be to peanuts. Not just any peanuts. Church peanuts. Pulled from the sandy soil of North Carolina fields, blistered in the fires of oil, baptized in that heavenly shower of salt, and sanctified by the goodness they put forth into the world — these aren’t your average goobers.

The jars with the simple white-and-blue labels that read, “PEANUTS Prepared by FIRST UNITED METHODIST CHURCH PEANUT CREW,” find their way into stockings at Christmas and North Carolina-themed care packages year-round.

Over the past 60 years, how each jar of nuts gets made has changed as the operation has grown, but why the roughly 25-man Peanut Crew gathers in the church’s kitchen to fry, pack, and ship nuts around the world hasn’t.

The Mount Olive First United Methodist Church Peanut Crew members

The men in the FUMC Peanut Crew — as well as church/crew secretary Sallie Bollinger — assemble about 10 times a year to fry, jar, and pack their heavenly peanuts. photograph by Chris Rogers

The tradition began back in the ’60s, when a preacher from Rocky Mount visited a church that was frying peanuts as a fundraiser. When he joined the congregation at First United Methodist Church of Mount Olive, he brought with him the idea to blister-fry peanuts to help the community. “Back then, if the Peanut Crew had an order for a case, they’d cook a case on the stove in a pot,” says Martin Weeks, a member of FUMC’s Peanut Crew. “It grew from there.”

Frying peanuts in oil

Blistered in frying oil and baptized in a heavenly shower of salt, church peanuts are a distinct, North Carolina delicacy. photograph by Chris Rogers

Weeks grew up in Mount Olive, where his father was the postmaster and an early Peanut Crew member. Back when his dad headed up the crew, they made about 100 cases at their meetings. Now, they’re up to 380. When the holidays come, production goes nuts. “We sell about 2,000 cases between Thanksgiving and Christmas,” Weeks says. He’s worked on the crew for more than 15 years, but he’s seen its impact his entire life.

Today, the Peanut Crew — which comprises men in the FUMC congregation, many from other churches in the area, and some who don’t attend church at all except on peanut-frying day — sells thousands of cases a year.

But while the popularity of the peanuts has grown, the profits from their sales don’t fund the more-than-110-year-old redbrick church. Instead, the money goes directly to people in the community who need it. The Peanut Crew cooks peanuts — 2,100 pounds in a batch — about 10 times a year, and each time, they hold a meeting to decide how the money raised will be spent.

Steve Lane arranges fried peanuts on cooling racks.

After they take a hot bath in oil, Steve Lane lets the goobers cool. photograph by Chris Rogers

“People can bring up anything they would like to give money to or talk about how they would like to help people,” Weeks says.

Weeks understands what many of us feel at Christmastime: that sometimes, the giving of a gift can bring a joy that surpasses receiving one.

“There’s not many things you can do in life where you sit down and you have a say in what’s going on, every time,” Weeks says. “You can help people. I think that’s one of the neatest things about it, and I think that’s one of the driving things for the people who come from outside the church.”

Most funds go to help people in Duplin and Wayne counties, the area surrounding Mount Olive. “Somebody might be sick, or somebody might need help covering burial expenses,” Weeks says. Children and families are frequent recipients: The Peanut Crew gives a $5,000 scholarship every year to a student in the area, they give $1,000 a month to an organization that helps children, they’ve given to people who need help taking care of foster children, and they pay bills for those who can’t afford them.

• • •

Of course, all this fellowship and generosity starts with the product itself — one with a simple recipe and simpler ingredients.

First, buy top-grade, blanched nuts from A&B Milling Company in Enfield. Second, soak them in water. Third, fry those still-wet nuts.

Just four ingredients: water, peanuts, oil, and salt. You can try it at home, but they won’t taste the same. Weeks has a theory as to why: “Mount Olive just has really good water.” That Mount Olive water pops and bubbles around each peanut when it hits the hot oil, leaving those crispy, crunchy blisters on the surface.

Jarred peanuts from the peanut crew

The Peanut Crew ships their jarred peanuts around the world. photograph by Chris Rogers

Weeks has used his experience as an industrial engineer to help streamline the frying process a bit. Other crew members have added their expertise as well. Bill Bryan, executive chairman of Mt. Olive Pickle Company and a Peanut Crew member, buys glass jars in bulk for Mt. Olive and sells them at cost to the Peanut Crew and some other churches that need them.

“I appreciate the fellowship on the crew, and the time and dedication they put in to do good work in the community,” Bryan says.

The number of cases headed out the door is a testament to the deliciousness of that product. Today, the Peanut Crew ships all over the country and around the world. While most things that are bought and sold these days are paid for ahead of time, if you order from the Peanut Crew, they’ll mail you your nuts — each 12-jar case costs $35 — in good faith with an invoice in the box.

“The most amazing thing is, everyone pays,” Weeks says.

Amen to that.

First United Methodist Church in Mount Olive

At FUMC in Mount Olive, it’s business in the front and peanuts in the back — fried peanuts that is. photograph by Chris Rogers

Nuts Around the State

Churches throughout North Carolina help their congregations and their communities by selling peanuts.

First United Methodist Church — Mount Olive

The church’s Peanut Crew raises funds to help families by selling its blister-fried peanuts.

(919) 658-3169

Englewood United Methodist — Rocky Mount

With peanut sales beginning in the 1950s, the men’s group at the church is often credited as the first in North Carolina to sell nuts as a fundraiser.

(252) 443-2926

Winstead United Methodist Church — Wilson

Unlike many groups that fry their nuts, Winstead UMC sells water-blanched peanuts.

(252) 237-3709

Madison United Methodist Men’s Club — Madison

They sell pints of peanuts at the church but can ship anywhere.

(336) 548-6658

First Christian Church — Washington

Its “Peanut Ministry” shows that excellent peanuts aren’t just a Methodist enterprise.

(252) 946-4293

This story was published on Nov 27, 2023

Eleanor Spicer Rice

Eleanor Spicer Rice earned her Ph.D. in entomology at North Carolina State University. She is the author of Dr. Eleanor’s Book of Common Ants of New York City.